The one exercise that will make you fitter

Image courtesy of @ashleyhfx

I know it’s easy to get caught up in learning and perfecting the “sexy” exercises and movements. The ability to perform a muscle-up or a snatch is an impressive feat and the result of a lot of hard work and dedication; this is not a post discouraging anyone from setting challenging goals and taking intelligent steps to achieve those goals. Yet, sometimes those lofty goals can be overwhelming, or we can get so caught up in the details of a complicated project that we give up entirely. We think “getting fit” is a complicated process, but it’s not. It’s simple, not easy — and the same goes for the workouts that can get us there.

So today I’m making a case for the one movement you should be doing regularly to maintain mobility, motor control, metabolic conditioning and strength, regardless of your fitness level. Enter the burpee.

A much discussed longevity test — developed by Brazilian researchers observing patients’ ability to get up off the floor from a sitting position without assistance — showed that middle-aged and elderly people who required the most assistance (requiring the use of both knees and hands to get up off the floor) were 6.5 times more likely to die during the study period than those who needed the least assistance. I don’t think we need a scientific test to understand that our ability to move our own body easily and painlessly from the floor to a standing position is about as useful as it gets! If you’re focused on functional rather than flashy fitness, you’ll admit that the old standbys like pushups, pullups, sprints, and yes, burpees are much more classically functional than snatches, cleans, or — ahem — leg pressing 10 plates. Can you get up off the floor? Can you pull yourself up from a ledge? Can you run away from someone or something dangerous? These are all very useful feats; it’s not often that you’ll have to snatch your bodyweight in a “real-world” situation.

A burpee is essentially the act of efficiently lowering yourself to the floor and then effectively getting back up again. It uses your entire body, activates your core, requires mobility, and as anyone who has done more than 10 of them in a row knows, it’s metabolically challenging. You can do burpees anywhere, with no equipment and very little space.

If you’re a beginner:

  • After you warm up, start slowly and methodically, and pay attention to how your body feels as you’re going through the movement. What’s difficult? What hurts or feels tight? How many can you do before you’re gasping for breath?

If you fancy yourself a fit person:

  • Try a round of Tabata burpees (20 seconds of work, ten seconds of rest, eight times for a total of four minutes of hellish work).
  • Do a finisher of 50 burpees as fast as possible at the end of your workout (and maybe once a week, when you’re feeling frisky, try 100!)
  • You can also incorporate them into your circuit training to keep your heart rate up, combining them with other plyometric movements like rope battles, skipping, and dumbbell work. Really, you can add them to any workout if you’re feeling stale and want to make your workout more challenging. No matter how fit you are, these should hurt — if you’re not tired, you’re not working hard enough!

Whether you’re a newbie who’s a little unsure of where or how to start your fitness journey, or if you’re a superstar working on bodyweight thrusters or backflips, don’t underestimate the power of adding the burpee into your daily or weekly routine.